Yesterday I met La Vache Qui Rit! You probably know her as The Laughing Cow of the cheese of the same name fame, (unintended poems just fly off my lips) but her real name is La Vache Qui Rit, because she is French, you see! I just happened to run into her while I was in her native land…
It all started because I want an I-Pad. I’ve been pricing them here and there because the US Postal Service will no longer ship anything with a lithium battery to a US post office box abroad. Thus, I can’t buy one from Best Buy or some such electronics retailer and have it shipped to me. And Apple, who I’m starting not to like because of what they’re doing to Tio Pepe in Madrid (but that’s another story and another blog post – see the post prior to this one) won’t ship overseas, probably because of deals they’ve made with retailers abroad. Why do you want an I-Pad anyway if you don’t like Apple, you ask? Because in Europe, you can fly pretty cheaply from country to country, but you only get to take 10 kilos of STUFF with you, otherwise, they charge you pretty dearly, so I need something lightweight to stay connected to family and friends. I may not be a “digital native”[i] like some of my students, but I am connected, and I feel pretty lost when I can’t get to email and Facebook.
So back to the reason for the trip to France: I wanted to price I-Pads there. Some things are cheaper in Belgium, others in France, and pretty much everything is cheaper in the US. But because of the aforementioned reasons, I have to buy my I-Pad locally. Naturally, when price differences are 50 – 100 euros, comparison shopping is in order. To that end, I decided to head to the land of cheese, wine and La Vache Qui Rit. Vive la France!
It’s not like it’s far. France is only about 20 minutes from where I live in southwest Belgium, and the particular store we wanted to visit is only about 30 minutes away. There is a fairly large mall with some pretty interesting stores, among them a huge “big-box retailer,” Auchan, which I thought might have I-Pads. There is a similar store in Belgium that is also in other parts of Europe, called Carrefour, and it has a good selection too, but my friend knew of this Auchan nearby in France, so off we went.
Both Auchan and Carrefour are quite comparable to Super Wal-mart, America’s favorite (or least favorite, depending on whom you ask or what time of day you last went there) store. There are a few differences, however. First, it has fewer choices among individual items. You can get sheets, for example, but there are only five or ten choices in colors and thread-count; you can get a vacuum cleaner, but there are perhaps three brands and maybe eight or nine different machines. Wal-mart has many more choices, but maybe all those choices are unnecessary, especially considering the abuse Wal-mart perpetuates on its vendors. But that’s also another blog post! Sorry, I digress. Back to the story at hand.
Second, Auchan and Carrefour Planet both have counters where you can buy REALLY fresh fish and meats. They can only be compared to the counters of the old-fashioned, stand-alone butcher and fish shops. I think I said they are sellers of REALLY FRESH meats and fish. As in, ‘freshly killed.’ The smell as you approach them is overpowering: fish or blood, depending on which one you are near. Blech. Makes you not like fish for a moment…and meat perhaps never again. But then that’s just me.
Finally, and this is my friend’s favorite difference, is the selection and price of wine. Wow. Several rows of a huge variety of wines, mostly French, of course (yum), and even other things like liquor and beer are in pretty decent variety, too. I found my favorite Green Apple liqueur there, the one that is rare outside of Spain and southern France: Manzana. (Yum again.) Being France, though, the largest selection is that of wine. Many are “buy two cases, get one free,” or “buy one, get one.” The result is something like two bucks for a bottle of wine that is so far superior to “Two-Buck Chuck” that the latter is not fit to drink after having had a sip of the former. So, while we were there…on a acheté un peu pour la cave.
Parking is very similar to Wal-mart on a Saturday, so after finally finding a spot, we walked into the mall and headed straight for food, because it was about three in the afternoon and we were both famished. We walked all over the mall to find the different food offerings and found that most were no longer serving food, only cocktails. While we definitely wanted a cocktail, we were much more interested in food. We almost resorted to a Subway (yep, in France) but finally settled on “Pizza Paï,” pronounced “pizza pie.” The name almost kept us from eating there. Lucky for us, it didn’t.
Turns out Pizza Paï was a good choice. The food was excellent. I had a sort of calzone in flaky pastry with a salad and my friend had a pretty decent pesto dish. It was very yummy. But the pièce de résistance was the cosmo. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they serve cosmos in Europe. I’ve been looking for one ever since I got here, to no avail. To my surprise, I found one in a pizza joint in a mall in France. Not only did they serve them, but they are really, REALLY good. Even my friend, who among her many talents is that of bartending, declared it delish. Ahhh…
When we finally made it into Auchan, the I-Pads were RIGHT THERE, near the front, so I priced the one I want, and lo and behold, it is MORE expensive in France than here in beautiful Belgium. We said “that’s that” and moved on into the store, where we met La Vache Qui Rit. She wasn’t laughing actually. Truth be told, she was mute but happy to give us the “thumbs up” for us to take her picture, which we did. She didn’t actually laugh, just kept a really big smile. Probably because of her cheesy earrings, pun intended. She seemed to like the hugs, and she snuggled right up to me, leading me to believe “she” might be a “he.” Who knows? Hey, whatever; I met The Laughing Cow!
Ah, France, vous êtes si intéressante !
[i] http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Prensky, Marc. 2001.
http://www.auchan.fr/accueil Auchan France